Cover image for The beast God forgot to invent
The beast God forgot to invent
Harrison, Jim, 1937-2016.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Atlantic Monthly Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
274 pages ; 24 cm
The beast God forgot to invent -- Westward ho -- I forgot to go to Spain.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Library
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Jim Harrison is an American master, and The Beast God Forgot to Invent is a book that The New York Times Book Review called "a big, wet, sloppy kiss that Harrison continues to plant on the face of life itself".

These are stories of culture and wildness, of men and beasts and where they overlap. A wealthy man retired to the Michigan woods narrates the tale of a younger man decivilized by brain damage. A Michigan Indian wanders Los Angeles, hobnobbing with starlets and screenwriters while he tracks an ersatz Native-American activist who stole his bearskin. An aging "alpha canine", the author of three dozen throwaway biographies, eats dinner with the ex-wife of his overheated youth, and must confront the man he used to be. As The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) put it, "The Beast God Forgot to Invent is a proud addition to the Harrison oeuvre. It is exhilarating to watch a master at work".

Author Notes

James Thomas Harrison was born on December 11, 1937 in Grayling, Michigan. After receiving a B.A. in comparative literature from Michigan State University in 1960 and a M.A. in comparative literature from the same school in 1964, he briefly taught English at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

During his lifetime, he wrote 14 collections of poetry, 21 volumes of fiction, two books of essays, a memoir, and a children's book. His collections of poetry included Plain Song, The Theory and Practice of Rivers, Songs of Unreason, and Dead Man's Float. He received a Guggenheim fellowship for his poetry in 1969. His essays on food, much of which first appeared in Esquire, was collected in the 2001 book, The Raw and the Cooked. His memoir, Off to the Side, was published in 2002.

His first novel, Wolf, was published in 1971. His other works of fiction included A Good Day to Die, Farmer, The Road Home, Julip, and The Ancient Minstrel. His novel, Legends of the Fall, was adapted into a feature film starring Anthony Hopkins and Brad Pitt. Harrison wrote the screenplay for the movie. His novel, Dalva, was adapted as a made-for-television movie starring Rod Steiger and Farrah Fawcett. He died on March 26, 2016 at the age of 78.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Like his other fiction, Harrison's fourth volume of novellas takes hold of you through the sweetly intoxicating influence and power of his narrative voices, from which strong characterizations flow. As usual, he blends nature with culture, more often than not folding the latter into the former in subtle ways that show us that no matter how hard we try we just can't divorce ourselves from the big picture. The title novella, set in Michigan, takes the form of a written report to a coroner in which a wealthy 67-year-old man--a cultured and savvy narrator who has vacationed in Michigan's Upper Peninsula since childhood--describes events leading to the drowning of his younger friend, Joe. Joe, himself, had been a successful businessman until a car accident and ensuing brain damage had outwardly "enfeebled" him, though in reality turned him more primal. The narrative is far more than a report, as Joe's actions prompt the narrator to examine his own life and his philosophy toward life. In "Westward Ho," a Native American (from Michigan) tracks a double-dealing friend to L.A. to recover his stolen bearskin, which holds sentimental clan value. Brown Dog's adventures in Lotus Land are helped along by characters who are as jaded, eccentric, and cynical as any you're likely to come across this side of Nathanael West. "I Forgot to Go to Spain" is a return to the first-person narrator, which Harrison employs so well. This time the protagonist is a middle-aged writer of knockoff biographies that have made him a lot of money but also sidetracked him from literature--and a trip to an idealized Spain that he had dreamed of since college. It's familiar theme is rescued by a glib narrator unafraid to reveal the contradictions and errors of his thinking, and whose leap into the past (reminiscences and a reunion with an ex-wife) clears a bold path for his future. The novella has reemerged over the past few years, and these tales prove that Jim Harrison is a master of the genre. --Frank Caso

Publisher's Weekly Review

Poet, essayist and novelist Harrison (Dalva, etc.) has long been acclaimed for his portrayal of human appetitesÄsexual, artisticÄand his descriptions of Michigan's wilderness. In this collection of three witty novellas, he dissects two high-strung, slightly lecherous intellectuals, men who cannot tear themselves away from their books or work, who drink and gourmandize to blunt the sense of waste that taints their silver years. Harrison treats these characters with empathy but, as always, he contrasts them unfavorably to more instinctual, thus happier, men. The title novella, which begins slowly but is the most affecting of the trio, is narrated by Norman Arnz, a wealthy 67-year-old book dealer who lives in a cabin in northern Michigan. Norman's peaceful retirement is disturbed when his friendship with a virile, brain-damaged man exacerbates the feeling that he has lived his life too timidly. Similarly, the protagonist of "I Forgot to Go to Spain" is a 55-year-old pulp biographer who has left behind the romantic ideals of his graduate school days and gone on to earn millions compiling the sort of books that "fairly litter bookstores, newsstands [and] novelty counters at airports." When he recognizes that compulsive work habits have deprived him of his dreams, he hopelessly tries to reignite an old flame (only to find she prefers her gardener). Sandwiched between these two novellas comes "Westward Ho," finally starring a man who is content in his own skin: Brown Dog, an easygoing woodsman who has appeared in two of Harrison's previous tales. This time the Native American from Michigan brings "real emotion" to Hollywood when he maneuvers his way among movie insiders in order to recover a stolen bear rug. Throughout the volume, Harrison's intricate symbolism and scathing observations of urban foibles, his sly humor and vibrant language remind readers that he is one of our most talented chroniclers of the masculine psyche, intellectual or not. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In much of his work, Harrison (Legends of the Fall, Farmer) mines the territory of masculinity, showing how his heroes either thrive because of it or succumb to it. The three novellas that make up this book are no different, only updated to transplant his world-weary men from their usual countrified digs to the big city. In "Westward Ho," a Michigan Indian tracks his stolen bearskin to Los Angeles, where he not only finds the thief but also prostitutes, crazy Hollywood types, and expensive bottled waters. (A nod is given to author Sherman Alexie.) In "I Forgot To Go to Spain," a disenchanted biographer jumpstarts his life after a reunion with his first wife (of nine days) is less than heartening. Such brief descriptions cannot convey the leisurely pace of these tales, which seem determined to embody the aimlessness of their protagonists. In fact, the title story, about a clan trying to rein in their impulsive, brain-damaged friend, meanders too much for its own good. Even so, Harrison fans will appreciate the effort, and new readers might find this lighter, less solemn work a good introduction to Harrison's writing. For larger libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/00.]DMarc Kloszewski, Indiana Free Lib., PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One The danger of civilization, of course, is that you will piss away your life on nonsense. The discounted sociologist Jared Schmitz, who was packed off from Harvard to a minor religious college in Missouri before earning tenure when a portion of his doctoral dissertation was proven fraudulent, stated that in a culture in the seventh stage of rabid consumerism the peripheral always subsumes the core, and the core disappears to the point that very few of the citizenry can recall its precise nature. Schmitz had stupidly confided to his lover, a graduate student, that he had in fact invented certain French and German data, and when he abandoned her for a Boston toe dancer this graduate student ratted on him. This is neither specifically here nor there to our story other than to present an amusing anecdote on the true nature of academic life. Also, of course, the poignant message of a culture spending its time as it spends its money; springing well beyond the elements of food, clothes, and shelter into the suffocating welter of the unnecessary that has become necessary.     So what? This is the question that truly haunts us, coming as it does at the nether end of any statement of consequence beyond the moment, as if grave matters must prove their essential worth in a competitive arena and not demanded of the meaningless activities that saturate human lives.     But I must move on because this is actually a statement offered to a coroner's inquest in Munising, Michigan, the county seat of Alger County in the Upper Peninsula, concerning the death of a young man of my acquaintance, Joseph Lacort. Locally he was known as just plain Joe, and he drowned thirty miles out beyond the harbor mouth near Caribou Shoals in Lake Superior. Everyone thinks he was looking for his fat Labrador retriever, Marcia, who swam pointlessly after ducks and geese and there was a large flock of Canadian geese in the harbor that day. But then what sort of madman would swim all evening and all night looking for a dog? Joe would. Myself, I think Joe committed suicide, though I consider this a detail mostly pertinent to myself as his remaining relatives doubtless feel well shut of this troublesome creature. But then the word "suicide" is a banality that doesn't fit this extraordinary situation. Perhaps he felt summoned by the mystical creatures he thought he had seen.     Before I forget, yes I do forget who I am, no longer a matter of particular interest to me, my name is Norman Arnz, and I'm sixty-seven years old. I'm semi-retired and from Chicago where I worked in commercial real estate and as a rare-book dealer. Not that it matters but I'm the only one in my larger family, none of whom I have any contact with--we share a mutual disregard--who readapted the family name "Arnz" after it was changed to "Arns" during the First World War when the Boche were a plague. My mother was mixed Scandinavian, so I'm a northern European mongrel.     I've spent summers in my cabin my entire life since my father bought the property while a mining engineer for Cleveland Cliffs in Marquette, Michigan, early in the Great Depression which has now filtered down into millions of little ones in our inhabitants. Excuse this modest joke, but then any product involved with depression has done very well on the market for those dedicated to this otiose poker game. When some clod begins a sentence with "My broker ..." I immediately turn my back.     I told the coroner I couldn't come to Munising because of failing health when, in fact, I avoid the village because of a melancholy love affair with a barmaid a decade ago in the last deliquescent flowering of my hormones. It was a love affair to me but a well-paying job to Gretel, not her real name of course, but then our miserable affair was public knowledge in Munising.     I took the precaution of phoning Chicago the other day to determine if whether Joe's death was suicide or accidental had any bearing on the insurance money due his mother. It doesn't. She's an attractive woman in her mid-fifties, deeply involved in her third abysmal marriage, this time to a logger over in Iron Mountain. I knew her first slightly in the sixties--she grew up here--when she ran off with a nitwit Coast Guardsman who became Joe's father for a brief time.     Before I get started I must say that the end of Joe's life was his business. Swimming north in those cold, choppy waters I can imagine his croaking laughter, the only laughter he was capable of after his accident some two years before. The aftereffect of the motorcycle accident was called a traumatic brain injury, or a closed-head injury as there was no penetration by the beech tree he ran into while quite drunk. It was lucky indeed for the tavern owner that Joe's last six-pack was consumed on the beach before he roared off on his Ducati. I could go on here about the pointlessly litigious nature of our culture but then would anyone listen? Of course not. Even my wife said soon after we divorced some twenty years ago that she looked forward to being married to someone who didn't make long speeches or lectures during dinner. In fact my local friend Dick Rathbone, with whom I've been close since we were children, actually turns off his hearing aid when I begin one of my speeches. Luckily certain old retired men on short rations will listen to me at the tavern as long as I continue buying drinks.     Until his accident in his mid-thirties Joe owned an interest in three successful sporting goods stores in central Michigan which enabled him to spend his summers up here. I've heard different figures but I'd guess his entire net worth, some seven hundred fifty thousand dollars, was spent on his unsuccessful rehabilitation until last May when Dick Rathbone and his sister Edna kept an eye on him for the welfare department. Dick had worked as a lowly employee of the Department of Natural Resources for thirty or so years and it was his idea, quite brilliant I think, to attach telemetric devices to both Joe and Marcia to keep track of their whereabouts. Certain newcomers to the community thought it inhumane (whatever that could mean in view of the past century) but then newcomers are generally ignored on important matters because of the essential xenophobia of the human condition. Due to his impact with the beech tree, the flubbery rattle of the brain within its shell referred to technically as "coup contracoup," Joe lost most of his ability at visual memory, even for faces such as his mother's and my own, a deficiency called "prosopagnosia." Joe's very least problem was boredom because everything he saw he saw for the first time, over and over. Each of his dawns began as a brave new world, to borrow a phrase from Aldous Huxley whose first editions have remained curiously stagnant in price. Sometimes Joe followed Marcia but most often she followed him. His nexus was the rather ornate birdbath in Dick Rathbone's backyard. Joe carried a good Marine-surplus compass and another was pinned to his belt. My cabin was a hundred seventy-three degrees northeast of Rathbone's birdbath, a matter of some five miles though this wasn't relevant to Joe. I have it on good witness that in June near the summer solstice he walked all the way to Seney and back to get a particular kind of ice-cream bar that Dick's sister had forgotten while grocery shopping, a round-trip of fifty miles which took about fourteen hours, a double marathon though Joe viewed his pace as leisurely. A park ranger at the nearby National Lakeshore had maintained Joe walked up and down the immense sand dunes at the same speed. When I asked him about this he clumsily explained that it was apparently due to his injury, and that he was helpless to change his gait which was a little problematical during his night walking due to the brush.     Frankly I didn't care at all for him before his injury. Despite his financial success downstate he would become immediately loutish up here, aping his local friends. It's hard enough to have your foot in one world, let alone two, and catering to egregious pricks out of childhood nostalgia is a poor way to conduct your life. He used to drink rather vast amounts of beer, which caused pointless quarrels with whatever girlfriend was visiting. The impulse behind this kind of beer drinking is mysterious. Dick Rathbone has supposed they actually like to piss which they will do a dozen times in an evening. I called an old friend in Chicago on this matter out of idle curiosity. This friend is a true rarity, a gay psychiatrist of Italian parentage named Roberto. I exclude his last name because the world is his closet, as it were. Oddly enough Roberto agreed with our humble Dick Rathbone, but I can't really imagine the nature of this impulse. We all have our limits, don't we? The will to pee, indeed. Fairly early one morning in July Sonia, a registered nurse from Lansing and one of Joe's girlfriends, showed up at my cabin saying she had agreed to meet him there. It was already warm and she wore an unnerving shorts and halter. When I brought her coffee I could see her nipples and when she drew her leg up on her chair I caught a glimpse of pubic hair. Unlike women in my younger days she was utterly nonchalant about exposing herself and I felt the mildest of buzzing sensations plus a certain giddiness I hadn't known in years. Naturally I tried to determine immediately if this was a good or bad experience and came up with something between the two. We are mere victims, mere supplicants, in the face of what a Mexican friend calls the "divina enchilada."     Her knees were more than a bit abraded and I retrieved some Bactine and cotton which she allowed me to administer with a smile. She said Joe had said he was walking up the small river, in the river at that, to visit the grave of an infant bear he had buried in late May. I asked her if she had fallen and she laughed heartily saying that Joe had "fucked" her relentlessly "dog style" on the beach which had been hard on her knees. Now I had met Sonia several times before but one would think this kind of information would be shared with only the closest of friends. I nodded and allowed myself a chuckle. Nurses do tend to be matter-of-fact because of their contiguity to death. After about fifteen minutes she asked if she could rest on the couch and assumed an even more daring position before she began the slightest of snores. Here I was, a prisoner in my own house, trying to read a previously fascinating botanical text but unable to pass through a couple of sentences without another look at Sonia. I admit at one point I knelt rather closely with a devil-may-care attitude toward getting caught. After all, it was my house.     And thus the morning passed until near noon when I fell asleep with my face pressed against the botanical text rather than something more interesting. I awoke to the sound of the shower and Marcia, Joe's Labrador, barking loudly. I was slow to react, dreaming of all things of my favorite Chicago steakhouse, and damping a botanical plate with drool, when Sonia rushed past me in a towel. She stooped outside and petted Marcia who was obviously trying to get someone to follow her. My concern was leavened over the missing Joe somewhat by noting what a poor job the towel was doing covering Sonia. She was all for following Marcia which I advised to be a bad idea. Instead I called Dick Rathbone on my car cellular--there was no phone line to my cabin--and told him the problem. While we waited Sonia sat on a chair in her towel and began weeping. I stood beside her patting and rubbing her shoulders to comfort her. When a woman weeps I am desperately uncomfortable partly because neither my mother nor wife wept except on the rarest occasions. Sonia blubbered on about doe's absolutely hopeless condition which she certainly knew as a nurse. I began, of all things, to get an erection which would be obvious in my summer-weight chinos. I tried to move away but Sonia grabbed my arm weeping piteously then, noting my erection, gave it the brisk finger snap that nurses do, laughed, and called me an "old goat." She dressed right smack in front of me with a boldly amused look, my heart aching with her insult.     Dick Rathbone arrived with his telemetric receiver and we set off down the tangled riverbank with Sonia and Marcia both choosing to wade and swim along beside us. We had gone perhaps a mile before we found Joe fast asleep on a sand spit near an eddy. Dick pointed out the cairn of stones upon the bank where Joe had buried the baby bear which its mother had destroyed, so said Dick, because one of its front legs was deformed. Joe had found this detail to be unendurable.     When Sonia shook him awake aided by Marcia's face lapping, Joe announced that he had seen something quite extraordinary, a brand-new mammalian species, a beast that he didn't know existed. Dick whispered to me about adjusting Joe's medication, then asked kindly about the whereabouts of the tracks. Joe said the animal didn't leave tracks but he knew the general area it favored, mentioning a location well to the south which I won't identify now to preserve it from curiosity seekers. For her good intentions, Dick gave Marcia a number of biscuits, which he kept for that purpose. Marcia's sole real fidelity was to Joe and anyone else was fair game. Once I met her near a woodlot on a back street of the village. She acted alarmed and enervated so I followed her and she led me persistently to the grocery store so that I might buy her a snack.     I wasn't inclined to sit there near the sandbar and watch Joe go back to sleep so I left the chore to Sonia, Dick, and the faithful Marcia. I was amused to note that every time Dick glanced at Sonia his big, floppy ears reddened. It was with relief that I silently handed over the burden of lust to my old friend and headed upstream toward my cabin for lunch and a hard-earned nap. Sonia reminded me of a miserable poem by Robert Frost called "The Road Not Taken." Horrors! It's only July and we've had three days of dense cold rain with the wind northwest out of Canada. The life has drained out of me onto the maple floor. A business partner from Nebraska once told me that I kept my "lid screwed on too tight." Maybe so, but not that I've noticed except at times like now when the weather and my own contentious moods throw me for more than a loop. Dear Coroner, I loathe everything I've said but out of laziness I'm not changing a word. These are the first I've written in several days and I'll try to get more directly at the heart of the matter which, of course, is no longer beating. Right now I feel that my human tank is drained and I am the sediment, the scum on the bottom, the excrescence of my own years. It occurs to me that the memory of Sonia sitting in the chair a few feet from where I am now may have precipitated this funk. Nothing so much torments a geezer as the thought of the unlived life. For some reason she summons up an image of a steelworker shoveling coal into a blast furnace.     And I want to be fair-minded with Joe. This, after all, isn't about me but my departed young friend. There is ever so slight an aura around him now in my mind that must resemble the origin of some primitive religion. I just recalled one late June dawn when he arrived quite literally covered with mosquito and blackfly bites, muddy clothes, quite eager to show me the one-hundred thirty-seven water sounds he had logged in his notebook. What was I to make of this? Frankly it was interesting. Here was a man who quite literally saw everything for the first time every single day but had a quite extraordinary (a euphemism!) perception of the aural, if not the visual, though this is open to contention. The list of water sounds included the names of the creeks, rivers, lakes, also the morphology and weather conditions that had a part in their creation. I suppose all water may be perceived to be going downhill except in tidal situations where the receding tide is functionally going uphill to gather itself. There were a number of rubrics, squiggles, beside each item in Joe's list to remind him of the actual sound which he insisted over breakfast he could actually re-hear. Joe bolted his food like Marcia who was scratching the door. I made her a plate of several fried eggs in bacon grease, her favorite. Did I say that Marcia also disappeared the night of Joe's drowning? His body was eventually found, of course, dear Coroner. You have it, whatever it really is, in your possession. Marcia was never seen again and it's unthinkable that a Labrador retriever could drown. Perhaps she joined his imaginary creatures, if indeed they could be termed "imaginary." More than likely this happy lady was carried off in a tourist's car.     I'm getting ahead of myself. The water-sound morning came just before Joe's announcement about the discovery of a new beast. I had asked my psychiatrist friend, Roberto, in Chicago about the aural phenomena and he said closed-head injuries could indeed be boggling because the brain itself (one is tempted to say "herself" for a number of reasons) is so massively intricate. Roberto Fed Exed me a brain text which I found largely unreadable in its complexity. I simply couldn't quite believe "that" thing was in my head.     Joe's log of water sounds also made me wonder if nature, adequately perceived, is all that tame? I am perhaps not competent to conjecture in this area but who is to stop me? Professors only police each other and largely ignore the common man among which I number myself. Yesterday when the rain and blustery wind let up for a few minutes I replenished my bird feeder and found a dead evening grosbeak in the grass. For some reason I smelled its wet feathers and determined that it had only recently died. I shuddered at its lack of weight, though, of course, how else could it fly? I admired its sturdy beak and the amazing yellowish and beige feathers, the streak of white. I recalled the first time as a young man when I had been fortunate to cup a girl's pussy in my right hand. A mystery indeed. I'm sure every man remembers this encounter with a sense of true "otherness."     Let's re-adjust again. I've added a log to the fireplace I could barely lift. It was beech but not from the tree Joe struck so carelessly. I'm quite tired of being a querulous old fuck and I am beginning to wonder if this persona isn't simply another cultural imposition. Americans seem to love sporting metaphors and I have certainly rounded third base and am headed for home plate, which is a hole in the ground. Naturally I'd prefer to be "buried" in a tree on a platform or in a little oblong wood hut like members of Native tribes. I'm only ninety-nine percent sure that this doesn't matter but the remaining one percent is troubling.     I can try to determine the nature of Joe by my observations and what he told me; also from the three notebooks he left me. Orso I think. But then it would be needlessly exhausting to defend the nature of my mind that creates the perceptions about Joe. These last three rainy days I have begun to perceive certain limitations I hadn't sensed before and am unwilling to defend as virtuous. I am possibly less nifty than I thought. This won't precipitate a depression as the rain has already managed that quite well, though I admit it has been a lucid, reductive pratfall, a threshold rain.     In July, for instance, Joe was visited by a young woman I found quite unpleasant for the first few days. This girl blew her nose more often than any other mortal due, she said, to an allergy of some sort. She was of normal height but quite slender, wearing the kind of floppy clothes that conceal the actual shape. She was a graduate student in comparative literature at Michigan State University, down in East Lansing, a school I know little about except that their teams are referred to as the Spartans and are in the Big Ten. I went to Northwestern myself and though it has an excellent scholastic reputation this fact did not reduce the torpor I felt as a student. There I go again. Who gives a flat fuck? I am scarcely interesting even to myself. I am the personification of Modern Man, the toy buyer who tries to thrive at the crossroads of his boredom.     Anyway, this girl, to whom I'll give the name Ann, had none of the physical vibrancy of Sonia. She was, however, bitterly intelligent and quite helpful to Joe in collecting botanical specimens for me, a meaningless hobby I've had since a child. Due to Joe's visual confusion he kept returning with the same specimens as the day or days before. I paid Joe five bucks apiece for anything new and one day with Ann's help he made two hundred dollars. Despite Ann's obvious intelligence, not necessarily a pleasant item, she was irrationally in love with him no matter his hopeless injury. What in God's name does this mean? How can you continue to "love" someone with this sort of injury, who doesn't physically recognize you when you get up in the morning, though memory resonances are there in conversation, touch, and probably odor.     My careless presumptions about her began to dissolve when I was standing in Dick Rathbone's kitchen and he was describing how Joe and Ann had walked the Lake Superior shore over the Muskallonge Lake (twenty miles) and she had called him when the afternoon had become unpleasantly warm. We were looking out the back window into the garden, which surrounds the birdbath which is Joe's navigational focus, when Ann and Joe came up from the beach. She picked up the hose, turned on the faucet, and sprayed the sand off Joe who did the same for her though the water had obviously turned colder. Ann shrieked, stumbled, then jumped over a stack of two sawhorses that Dick had left in the backyard near the small cabin that served as Joe's quarters. Simple enough, but then I checked them out later and the sawhorses were three feet high. The mousy little girl was quite the jumper. What's more she had the lithe power of a dancer which she turned out to have been several years before. While Dick was busy at the grill with his hallmark barbecued chicken I spoke to Ann about this, having admitted that she had startled me. She said I was the type that spent my life making false assumptions and presumptions about people, though she said so with a smile. True, I thought, though I didn't say so. Instead I told her that when I was a very young man my mother hadn't allowed any books of a sexual nature in the house, not even high-minded photographic books with nudes, but since she followed dance there were any number of books containing photos of ballerinas in the house and as the young used to say, these books "turned me on." Ann was amused by this but then became unpleasant. Had I followed up my early obsession with ballerinas? No, of course not. Was I still attracted to them? Well, somewhat in the limited way an elderly gent is attracted to anyone. Oh bullshit, she said, I should have followed my desires, ballerinas are relatively easy as most of them could always use "sugar daddies." Her own father had bored the whole family senseless by his "puttering." She would have preferred he acted badly like Picasso (he taught painting at a university). To Ann her father's maturity was a hoax and the fact that he gave up painting and drinking for home repairs was an impossible disappointment for her.     This made me uncomfortable enough to sidle over to Dick's homemade barbecue machine and affect deep interest in the chickens. Ann, who was now wearing what I think is called a sarong, was helping Dick's sister Edna set up the picnic for dinner. Joe was asleep on the grass using Marcia as a pillow as he often did. Ann sat down next to him and brushed his hair. It occurred to me then that she might be drawn to Joe because her father had apparently lost his wildness and that's all that comprised Joe's life. After a year and a half in and out of hospitals he had no intention of getting close to a hospital or a doctor again. But then it is presumptuous of me to say that he had any intentions at all other than what he simply "did." Dinner wasn't pleasant for me except for the chicken and potato salad. Joe, as was his habit, ate an entire chicken in five minutes and went back to sleep. Edna covered him with netting to protect him from the early-evening mosquitoes. He twitched a lot and she wondered aloud if she should increase his medication. His pills made up quite a list, not that they had any positive effect other than to prevent something worse. Edna was amused when Ann began to pick on me over our dessert of fresh blueberry ice cream made with true unpasteurized Jersey cream Dick got from a friend over in Newberry.     Ann's first caustic remark came over the matter of my being a rare-book dealer, mostly retired but with a hand still slightly into the business. She thought of us as necromancers and how could I poke fun at the stock market when I was essentially in the same business. Her somewhat daffy mother had sold a first edition of Frost's North of Boston for fifty bucks to a dealer in order to buy her puttering geezer of a husband a special birthday present, a fraction of its worth. When Ann had found out she had gone to the dealer's shop, waited until there were several other customers, and then read the dealer out in the vulgarest terms imaginable. She managed to extract another fifty bucks which she tore into confetti and threw in the dealer's face.     This almost, but not quite, ruined my chicken. Guilty sweat trickled down my tummy over the memory of swindling a doddering academic wife out of her late husband's Faulkner collection to add to my own large holdings of this peculiar author who reminds me of botany in that there are so many shapes and permutations in his work. I took a fine vacation in Paris by selling a duplicate of Soldier's Pay for eight thousand dollars.     Meanwhile, I diverted Ann by guessing that she was a very late child so that by the time she reached adulthood she was very protective of her parents, in fact had probably become a parent to both of them. This wild, defensive guess electrified her to the point that the phrase "pissed off" was the mildest of euphemisms. She looked at me with the coldest contempt, woke up Joe, and led him into their cabin. So now you've met Sonia and Ann and we've not seen the end of either. And there's one more coming in August. To make things up with Ann I had my part-time secretary in Chicago send her my own copy of North of Boston , a generous gift in monetary terms though I have no fondness for the poet. Ann replied by sending me five hundred pages or so of material she collected off the Internet on closed-head injuries. This was an unwieldy and ghastly manuscript which, along with hard, scientific information from doctors specializing in the field, included hundreds of testaments from the injured themselves. Some of the latter simply made the heart flutter and ache, woeful tales of years of therapy with small chance of total recovery, but then any little advances were cause for family celebrations. The sheer numbers of the injured, of course, reflected the frequency of auto and motorcycle accidents, the Newtonian principle that an object in motion (your head) tends to remain in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced or unequal force (in Joe's case, a massive gray beech tree).     But why would I be so overwhelmed by these stories, a sophisticated student of language, of the best of world literature not to speak of legal documents, histories, the best newspapers and magazines? The answer I suppose lay in the charm of folkloric stories, primitive or "naive" art, the origins of third-world music, the recorded oral tales of our own Natives. A trucker swerves to miss a school bus (of course!). There are massive head injuries and his head becomes a partially cooked rutabaga. His wife and five children bathe and feed him for years in their humble shack in southern Indiana. Gradual progress is made and after a decade of heroic effort by the family and doctors the trucker is able to give his daughter in marriage at a country church though his head lolls uncontrollably and he can only walk by shifting sideways. His grammar is poor indeed but he's able to send his valiant story to the closed-head injury Web site because the trucking company gave him a laptop! He is able by himself' to catch catfish from a stream near their home. His family loves fried catfish, his only possible contribution to their welfare. Jesus Christ, this tale floored me!     That sort of thing. Reading these stories by the dozens reminded me how nearly all of our printed discourse is faux Socratic and contentious, a discourse without nouns of color and taste, a worldwide septic tank of verbiage that is not causally related to the lives we hope to lead. It is the language of the enemy and politicians lead the pack, with this verbal shit spewing out of their mouths on every possible occasion. Analogic, ironic, what we call common usage leaking its viruses from between book covers.     Perhaps I'm being excessive but I doubt it. Anyway, after carefully reading the five hundred pages I sent the packet back to Ann saying I couldn't bear to have it in my cabin, but not before Joe saw it on my kitchen counter. His verbal memory is sullied but not to the extent of his visual. To a certain minimal extent he can recall nouns referring to trees, birds, water, that sort of thing, but he can't directly relate, say on a walk, the nouns to the actual people.     For instance he insisted in June on showing me a coyote den. At first I refused because, unless it's quite windy, June walking involves blackflies which will turn you into a mass of itching welts. Of course I've noticed over the years that there have gradually been more reasons not to walk: too cold, too hot, mosquitoes, horseflies, deerflies, it's raining, it's too wet after a rain, or I'm too tired from reading, thinking, eating, twiddling my big thumbs (genetic).     Joe said that we could drive within a half mile of the place which was a fib. It was a full mile if not farther. The various bugs were savage in the damp, still air. Joe pointed to a white pine stump on a distant hillock that was partly surrounded by a nasty thicket of thornapple, a bush covered with two-inch thorns so sharp that a hunting friend had his penis speared to the hilt. I was using my expensive binoculars and saw nothing noteworthy. Joe who was without binoculars said he could see two noses poking from the dark hole at the base of the stump, and then a third smallish figure scooted into the hole. I missed this, too. The mother was watching us from beneath a chokecherry tree in lavish bloom. Joe stood behind me and I finally focused on the dim figure of the mother. Joe was upset because the pups evidently wouldn't emerge because of my presence. He directed me to walk back to another hillock about three hundred yards toward my car. I sniffed the unpleasant air and he drew out a plastic sack of rank stew meat from his pocket with a smile.     When I reached my assigned position I glassed Joe walking purposefully but zigzagging, jumping, and laughing. When he reached the den he lay down and dumped the meat on his chest. After a minute or so the three pups emerged and fed off his chest, standing on his body and quarreling over the food. The mother was now sitting about thirty yards away watching the scene. After the meal Joe crawled around playing tag with the pups, and at one point a pup rode on his back while chewing on his shirt collar.     I must say that though these animals were neither tame nor trained I didn't for some reason see the event as all that extraordinary. Coyotes owe their survival to their exceptional wariness. A naturalist acquaintance once told me that he suspected that for every coyote you see at least a dozen have seen you. So at the time it was amusing rather than impressive but then what did I really know about such matters? I had the slightest notion that the coyotes might trust Joe because he had become part of their world from which the rest of us are excluded for good reasons. And this particular species according to Native lore has quite the sense of humor. I might add that a Department of Interior game biologist I met told me that he had glassed Joe in early June walking alongside a smallish bear. This incident seemed troubling to him because the other two men who had accomplished this were professionals, like himself, in mammalian studies. (Continues...) Copyright © 2000 Jim Harrison. All rights reserved.